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Alice Hall: Needle and Thread Tension


Posted on September 20 2011

Today’s blog, written by Alice Hall for BeStitched Needlepoint, is about needles and thread tension. Needles: While there are many types of needles, in needlepoint we use “Tapestry Needles”. A tapestry needle has a blunt end, this allows the needle to go smoothly through the canvas without catching the canvas or threads.  There are two thoughts on what size needle to use on which canvas size. 1st thought…the needle should take the thread through the canvas without disturbing the canvas mesh.  The recommended size needles are as follows: 14 mesh canvas - size 20 tapestry needle 18 mesh canvas - size 22 tapestry needle 22/24 congress cloth - 24 tapestry needle 2nd thought…the needle should protect the threads from being stressed as they go through the canvas or a small enough eye to keep the thread in the needle.  This is subjective. For example, if a rounded thread like Very Velvet is used on 18 mesh, a size 22 needle is hard on the thread going through the canvas - changing to a size 21 or 20 will allow the needle to slightly open the canvas and not stress the thread.  If using 2 strands of silk on 18 mesh a size 22 needle eye is too large and you will have trouble keeping the thread in the needle, so using a size 24 or 26 will work better.  Personally when working on 18 mesh I have needle sizes 20, 22, 24 and 26 available and use the needle that best suits the thread.  I will also use an embroidery needle, which has a sharp point for piercing the canvas and of course, a #10 beading needle for beading. Tension: Perfect tension is not a given. If you have not stitched in a while or if you are stressed or upset your tension will be off.  The same is true if you are trying to stitch one more stitch before "having" to end your thread. Suggestions to keep your tension consistent: Canvas needs to be taut - stretcher bars are best, roller bars will also work. A doodle canvas - use to limber up fingers when you have not stitched in a while or want to test or practice a new stitch. Do not stitch stressed, have a cup of tea, do deep breathing before stitching. When you are up tight your tension will be tight. We should not try to obtain one more stitch out of the end of our thread.  This will make your tension tight. The end of the thread has been in the needle the longest so it will be worn.  Threads, as a rule, are the least expensive part of stitching, allow yourself to be generous. Keep thread lengths to 18 - 20 inches, this helps with tension.  If you are using a 36 inch thread your tension will change as the thread gets shorter. At 18-20 inches you can maintain an even tension. Make sure the needle is not wearing out.  Needle eyes are punched out and over time and usage they wear and catch the threads and cause bubbling and uneven tension. Watch for thread wear, getting too thin or pilling.  End off and thread up with a fresh thread. If possible try not to change a thread in mid row, as the tension in the last stitch will likely be different from the beginning stitch. Two handed or stab/poke method of stitch will help keep the angle of your needle constant and your tension better. I hope this blog contains some “news you can use”. Next time we will discuss types of threads and how to make them work for you. Old Chinese proverb - "The only stupid question is the one not asked." Let us know if you have any questions as well as any ideas for future blogs! Happy Stitching until we meet again, Alice

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  • Larry Snyder: September 09, 2016

    Love the hints. They truely help.

    When blending or shading colors do you want the threads to lay flat or cross to blend the color?

  • Sue VanderNoor: September 09, 2016

    Love the blog and the videos are wonderful. The shop looks very inviting and hope to come there someday for a class. Thanks so much


  • Jane: September 09, 2016

    Love your tips – all of them!!!

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